With the NFL draft behind us and a lockout raging on, the opportunities to talk about real football are becoming fewer and fewer. That being the case, I have sought out bloggers that cover teams that the Lions will play in the 2011 season to get a glimpse into what is going on with those teams.
Granted, this exercise presumes that no games will be lost due to the lockout. That might be a big step of faith, especially in regards to the preseason games, but I have a hard time operating under any other assumption. I know what happens when one assumes, let’s hope the labor situation doesn’t prove the old saying true. These Q&As aren’t meant to be any sort of game preview, it is obviously way too early for that. The subject teams may end up looking much different when the Lions play them compared to how they look now, but I anticipate this being a good introduction to each teams’ hopes, fears, needs, expectations, etc.
The Lions are scheduled to play their fourth preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. I was able to send some questions to Brad Andrews, the editor of BuffaLowDown, and he was kind enough to provide responses. Here we go…
Zac Snyder: A lot of mock drafts had Von Miller going to the Bills until about a day before the draft, were Bills fans disappointed the Broncos took him or are most people happy with Marcel Dareus?
Brad Andrews: The Bills really couldn’t go wrong with Miller or Dareus. Buffalo has two ENORMOUS weakness – rushing the passer and stopping the run – and either guy would have helped with one of those. Some people would have preferred Miller, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Bills fan upset with the Dareus pick. He’ll be a great run-stopping 3-4 defensive end and is versatile enough to slide to tackle in a 4-man front, which Buffalo will utilize often.
ZS: What weaknesses do the Bill still need to address and what is something that is becoming a strength?
BA: The Bills’ run defense was so bad last season (last in the league by a lot) that it’s still the biggest weakness until proven otherwise. The Buffalo linebackers were terrible against the run last season, but the hope is that 3rd round draft pick Kelvin Sheppard, a run-stuffing inside linebacker, will help. The pass rush (or lack thereof) is also a huge issue. Maybe if Shawne Merriman stays healthy he will help. Second-year linebacker Arthur Moats also has some pass rush potential.
As for strengths, the Bills are suddenly very deep at running back and wide receiver. If Buffalo can manage to keep Ryan Fitzpatrick upright, the Bills could be a very entertaining offense in 2011. Fitzpatrick could also be a strength. He’s not the most talented guy, but he is fearless and his teammates absolutely love him.
ZS: What are expectations like for the Bills entering next season?
BA: The Bills are kind of a mystery heading into 2011. There were moments last season when the Bills were extremely dangerous, and other times when they were simply awful. I think if the Bills are around .500, improved on defense, and Fitzpatrick proves his solid 2010 wasn’t a fluke, Buffalo fans will be feeling pretty good about the future. I just don’t think the talent is quite there yet to take down the Patriots or the Jets this season, but hopefully I’m wrong.
ZS: The Bills and Lions will play in the fourth preseason game. Even though we are a long way out from then, what are you hoping to see in that game?
BA: Given Buffalo’s horrific luck with injuries in recent years, I’m hoping I see the majority of the starters healthy and watching from the sidelines for the final preseason game. Ideally Fitzpatrick and the offense looked sharp in the first three games and feel no need to show much in this one. I also hope the Bills have signed a decent backup quarterback by then and he’s looking good against the Lions. Buffalo currently has just one other quarterback on the roster – unproven 2nd-year pro Levi Brown, who was cut after training camp in 2010 but brought back after the team cut Trent Edwards.
There should be some interesting battles to make the roster going on in any case, as the Bills have a lot of bodies at a few positions, including wide receiver and linebacker.
ZS: Give us one position battle to watch or the name of someone that will have something to prove.
BA: I’ll give you two names to watch: C.J. Spiller and Shawne Merriman. The Bills are really counting on Merriman this year, with Bills GM Buddy Nix calling him “the answer” at outside linebacker recently. Given Merriman’s recent injury issues, that seems very optimistic. If he can produce, that’d be a huge upgrade to the Buffalo defense.
As for Spiller, the former 9th overall pick had trouble getting on the field in 2010. His struggles with picking up the offense and pass blocking did not endear him to head coach Chan Gailey. Spiller has tremendous talent though, and Gailey swears he’s figured out how to best utilize his gifts. The Bills offense is in desperate need of a game breaker, and Spiller could be that man.